Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Everything is expensive in Switzerland, and despite this being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, that includes Internet access. Earlier today in a Pakistani-owned cell-phone-store-cum-Internet-cafe in Barcelona I paid 50 Euro cents for a half-hour of access; tonight in my hotel in Zürich I'm paying 8 Swiss francs for a half-hour on their wi-fi access. Such is the price of Internet addiction.

But enough bitching. I have two things to be happy about: I get to go home and sleep in my own bed tomorrow after over a month on the road, and I just finished up three days in one of the best cities I've ever visited. Barcelona really does have it all: art museums, punk clubs; historic churches, Richard Meier buildings; youth culture, old men's cafés; the ocean and the mountains; Catalunyan pride, international flavor. If I had a good reason, I would move there in a minute. Highlights for me included the modern art museum, the MACBA; a great little indie record store called Revolver Records (I picked up a reissue of a 1960s Skatalites LP as well as the latest Belle & Sebastian single); a cable-car ride across the mouth of the harbor to a little mountaintop café overlooking the whole city; and of course spending time with the inimitable Tracy Brooks Landers. Brooks and I stayed in a divey ho(s)tel just off the Rambla, the main pedestrian corridor through a very pedestrian-friendly town. The Rambla is like a three-lane highway for walkers bordered by one lane of motor vehicle traffic on each side, and it's full of street performers, vendors, and sidewalk cafés. As great as it is, it's full of tourists and you hear as much English there as Spanish and Catalán, so you definitely have to hit the un-beaten path as well. By this afternoon, I felt like I knew a 20-block radius of my hotel as well as I know Boston or Denver.

Zürich is just a brief stopover, the place I stored my luggage while traveling and the United hub I had to fly home from. I've just about finished my drink in the hotel bar, so it's time to sign off for the night and get some sleep in my post-modern Swiss hotel room.

Friday, March 24, 2006


I'm sitting in an empty train car that bears a striking resemblance to a jail cell, except with green curtains. Apparently the only wheelchair accessible car on this Trenitalia local from Florence SMN to Pisa Centrale is one that's completely empty except for a desk and an office chair — no other passengers, no seats at all, so I'm stuck in my wheelchair. And I was looking forward to a nap, too. At least the trip is only an hour or so.

The conductors just passed through my car on the way to the cockpit (or whatever it's called on a train — the engine room?). I guess this must be kind of their lounge area. I hope we start moving soon; the gray, trash-strewn, rainy railyard is depressing as hell.

I just said goodbye to Abby and Kate, who got on another train bound for Milan. They'll spend a night there before flying home to the States. My plan is to stay the night in Pisa by myself and then take a taxi to the airport, where I have a flight tomorrow morning to Barcelona. I can't wait to see Spain.

I'm listening to the Raconteurs, the new Detroit supergroup comprising the White Stripes' Jack White, singer/songwriter Brendan Benson, and the rhythm section from the Detroit Cobras. If the lead single is any indication, their debut album will be quite a listen.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Writing this from a hotel computer in Florence, where I've spent the past two days with friends Abby and Kate. Lots of the usual tourist activities: traipsing around museums and churches, shopping, and eating gelato. A very relaxing time after three long weeks (well, three long months, really) of racing. Saturday it's over to Barcelona to hang out with Brooks for a few days, then I head back Stateside.

Monday, March 20, 2006

last day in Sestriere

Last night the Paralympics ended with the most spectacular closing ceremony imaginable. (Photos will be up soon on my Flickr page.) The athletes paraded through a piazza in Turin, the route lined with tens of thousands of spectators. We sat in the main square in front of the Olympic Medals Stage and watched a two-hour choreographed show that was at times bizarre but consistently engaging. At the end of it all, legendary NYC folk-punk heroine Patti Smith played a one-hour set with her band, rocking out even more than she did 30 years ago.

My races concluded yesterday with the slalom. After the downhill, I knew that slalom would probably be my best chance for another good result. Sure enough, I fell in the super G and skied too conservatively in GS, but I gave it my all in the slalom and finished a respectable 16th. The field is just way too big in slalom and GS for many unheralded skiers like me to get a top-ten finish; one who did was Poland's Jaroslaw Rola. CDY was the top American in eighth. A sizeable mistake in my first run might have cost me a few places, but the top three skiers were just unbeatable — especially German Martin Braxenthaler, who came away from these games with an amazing three gold medals in four events.

[View the official results from the slalom here.]
[View the performance analysis data here.]
[Read about the race and women's champion Stephani Victor here.]

Now I'm off on a whirlwind tour of southern Europe: bus to Zürich tonight, train to Florence tomorrow to meet my friends Kate & Abby, flight to Barcelona on Saturday to meet my friend Brooks, back to Zürich next Tuesday and then home to the States the next day. Whew.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

redemption for USA

On their last day of competition today, the standing skiers finally won two Paralympic medals: Allison Jones gold and Sandy Dukat bronze: [story] [results]

tech events

I have one event left here at the Paralympics, tomorrow's slalom. Today we trained a bit of slalom in the morning, and things felt really good. I feel as confident for this race as I did for the downhill, although my competition will be considerably stiffer — the Euros and Japanese bring their A-game on slalom day.

I wish I had been as confident going into yesterday's GS. I had had some really bad runs of GS training the day before, and I definitely held back on the first run. I skied pretty stiff, like I was just trying to make it down safely rather than actually attacking the course. After that run I was in a miserable 32nd place. But in between runs I realized I had to change my approach, so I loosened up on the second run and just went for it. Plus, the course was faster and more open — much better suited to my skiing style. I was 19th in the 2nd run, so I moved up to 22nd overall. Not a great finish, but a decent one. Chris and Tyler, both very strong GS skiers, had a disappointing day, finishing just off the podium in 4th and 6th respectively.

If I let the ski run well tomorrow and don't make too many mistakes, I think another top ten isn't out of the question. Since downhill and slalom are feeling like my best events right now, I really wish disabled skiing had a Combined event, like the one Ted Ligety won at the Olympics. Running a downhill during the day and then a slalom in the evening under the lights — that would be tons of fun.

[View the results of the GS here.]
[Read about it here.]

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

the halfway point

Two Paralympic races down now, two to go. By now you may have read elsewhere that I was only 31st in yesterday's super G. What happened is that on just the third gate I leaned in a little bit, caught an edge, and went down. I spun around 360º on my side and then popped back up. I hadn't missed any gates and was still on line, so I continued my run. There were a few minor things I would've changed about my run after that, but it was good skiing. Sometimes in ski racing that stuff just happens, and after my good finish in the downhill, I wasn't too angry with myself. In the finish area I just shrugged and raised my outriggers like, "Hey, what are you gonna do?" I was in 20th place at the time but of course got bumped back as other skiers came down. As the commentator on put it, at least it was a good warm-up for Friday's GS. Besides, my friend Nick had one of his best finishes ever by finishing 4th, just 0.08 off the podium. Unstoppable German Martin Braxenthaler won gold.

[Read the USOC's press release here.]
[Read Ski Racing's story here.]
[View the complete race results here.]
[View the performance analysis report here.]
My brother Will makes an excellent point: the Torino Paralympics' mascot, Aster, looks a lot like one of the characters in the ridiculously awesome music video for the Danish dance-pop band Junior Senior's "Move Your Feet."

Monday, March 13, 2006

downhill fast

I had a really fun day yesterday in the downhill, and I finished fifth — my second-best international finish ever, 0.28 seconds off the podium. For a time I was sitting in third place behind my teammates Bramble and CDY, but a fast young Japanese skier named Takeshi Suzuki (haha! look how funny his head shot is!) and a fast French veteran, Denis Barbet, came down and slid in between Chris and me. Of course I immediately began second-guessing where I could've found more speed, but in the end I'm very happy with my run.

[Watch the race here by clicking "Highlights" and then "Men's sitting downhill."]
[View the official results here.]
[View the performance analysis data here.]
[Read the USOC's press release here.]
[Read the U.S. Ski Team's story here.]

A few tidbits about the race:
  • Austrian medal contender Reini Sampl (the photo caption is wrong) was yellow-flagged twice, meaning the racer before him crashed and he had to go back up to the start for a re-run. On his second re-run, Reini crashed. I felt really bad for him.
  • The U.S. also won the gold in the women's sitting division, with Laurie Stephens smoking the field as usual. These are the only three U.S. medals of these Games in alpine skiing thus far; the standing skiers were shut out in Saturday's downhill and today's super G.
  • The race course was 2325 meters long, and my raw time was 1:39.68. That means my average speed was about 84 km/h, which works out to 52 m.p.h. — slightly faster than my clocked speed at the second interval, 82 km/h.
  • Before the race, Tyler provided Nick, CDY, Bramble and me each with a hit of pure New Hampshire maple syrup, which he brought to the start with him in a pocket flask. It was a nice little reminder of home and as well as a good sugar buzz; I guess it worked for me and Chris, if not for Tyler and Nick, who both had trouble on their runs.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

downhill training day #1

I had a really solid first training run and am ready to give it more gas tomorrow. Here's a link to today's training results and statistical analysis. (The other classes' results can be found here.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

downhill inspection & training

Today was scheduled to be the first of three days of official, timed downhill training. Organizers of all downhill races are required to schedule at least two downhill training runs (and actually hold at least one) on a course identical to the one used on race day. (Not only is this not the norm for super G, giant slalom or slalom, it would actually be ILlegal if racers were permitted to train on the course prior to the race. Downhill is different because the high speeds involved and the long, difficult-to-memorize courses can make it unsafe to go all-out on one's first trip down.)

From 9 to 10 a.m. was course inspection, the time allotted for racers to sideslip through the gates in order to note terrain features and the placement of gates, to plan our optimal line through the course, and to memorize the whole course. The memorization part is especially crucial in downhill, and most racers usually use the full hour for their inspections — unlike, say, GS, where I find 15 or 20 minutes is often sufficient. The downhill course here at Sestriere Borgata looks really great: a mix of high-speed gliding, technical sections, and some interesting terrain features; it's challenging but not too intimidating. (All downhills are a little bit intimidating.) It has 40 gates marking 23 turns and follows roughly the same route as last month's men's Olympic super G. I already know it by heart, thanks to having run it probably 15 times already in my head.

Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until tomorrow for my first chance to run it for real. After inspection today, I went inside to stretch, grab a snack and use the bathroom. When I came back out, all the other monoskiers were sitting around in a little cluster at the bottom of the hill, and Nick said, "Did you hear? It's cancelled today." It turns out that wind speeds at the start of the race course had been steadily increasing, and an errant gale-force gust managed to rip the aluminum poles that were holding up a large start-shelter tent right out of the snow. The poles hit several team staff members, breaking a Japanese physiotherapist's leg and hitting a German coach in the neck as well as bonking one of our team's ski technicians in the head. The Japanese woman and Baloo, the German guy, had to be taken down the mountain in sleds for treatment, and the organizers made the decision to scrap the day's training run — a drastic step, but perhaps a good one for the teams affected. It will also give the organizers more time to deploy the army of course slippers, rakers, and groomers at their disposal to remove some of the excess soft snow that's continued to fall recently and could make the course dangerous. (They've already done a tremendous job of making the course ready to go once.)

Downhill is fast when you actually run it, but until then it's a hurry-up-and-wait sport. Tomorrow we take another crack at it, so I better get some sleep.

Monday, March 06, 2006

in the Paralympic Village

OK, I'm in Sestriere now, getting ready for the Paralympics. We moved into the Athlete Village here two days ago, and I took a few runs this afternoon on our race hill. It's looking sweet. All our races are on the men's Olympic downhill & super G run, if you happened to see that on TV. It's long and rolly, with some steep pitches, flats, and small jumps. It's going to make for a fantastic Paralympic downhill, I think, and the weather and snow right now are totally ideal — sunny and minus 5 to 10 Celsius, with firm but grippable snow.

There's so much to write about, so I guess I'll take it in chunks. For now I guess I'll try and describe the Paralympic Village experience. This year I think all the teams are staying in the Villages, the official housing provided free to athletes, coaches and staff. The hockey players and the curling team stay down in the Torino village, while the alpine and nordic skiers and biathletes stay up here in Sestriere. There are five residential buildings here, most of which were built for the Games. If you saw the three cylindrical towers on TV during the Olympics, those are part of the village, although the U.S. team isn't staying in them. We're in a low building almost immediately adjacent to the ski hill. It's great, you don't even need to get in a car to get to the race course. (The nordic skiers have a 20-minute drive to Pragelato each day.)

Inside the Village, there are all kind of amenities you might find in any neighborhood: general store, café, florist, dry cleaner, souvenir shop, Internet lounge, hair stylist, etc. Of course there's also a huge 24-hour dining hall with some good food and some really awful. Strangely (this being Italy and all), the pizza there is truly terrible. At least they have tomatoes and fresh mozzarella at every meal, along with plenty of olive oil and balsamic vinegar of course. They also have surprisingly passable egg rolls.

Anytime you want to re-enter the Village, or go in the dining hall, or do just about anything else, you have to show your credential. This is basically your proof that you are an athlete and you are who you say you are. It's a bad thing to lose, because then you basically don't exist.

pre-Paralympic photos

are now online over here on Flickr.